30 April 2012
Fourth Sunday of Easter
In the Diocese of Lansing, we are blessed with a number of institutions of higher education: I grew up learning the Spartan Fight Song from my parents, both proud alumni of MSU. Others learn “Hail to the Victors,” or “Eastern Eagles,” from EMU, or “Charge On” from Hillsdale College. And each has its own power to move hearts. But, for my money, there is no more beautiful Alma Mater (if a non-alumnus can say this) than “MSU Shadows.” Every time it’s played it evokes in me a feeling of home and connection, family and friends, and I can only imagine how those who graduated from MSU feel when it’s played. It even surpasses, dare I say it, the Alma Mater of my alma mater, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, written by then-Fr. Earl Boyea, entitled “Cor ad Cor.”
Even in our very transient culture, where people not only move city to city, but State to State, or even country to country for jobs and opportunity, there is something about the feeling of home that resonates in us all. Home, not just a house, means stability, love, warmth, and family. That is why violence done to a home with a wrecking ball, or even sadder, violence done in a home, wrenches us at our core. Homes should be safe.
Jesus today in the Gospel refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and his sheep know Him. He protects them, and even lays down His life for them. He will not suffer wolves to enter the pasture where His sheep graze, but will do whatever it takes to give His flock life. It is as if Jesus is setting up the green pastures, of which Psalm 23 speaks, as a home where all His sheep can feel at ease, safe, protected, and loved.
The pasture that Jesus protects is His Church, His community of disciples. This is our home. This is where we are loved, nurtured, and protected. It’s a large flock, but Jesus knows each of us by name, and we are called to grow in our knowledge and love of the Good Shepherd each day. In order to be safe, though, we must stay close to Him. There are too many wolves that would love to devour the sheep.
Some of you are here for the last time today. You’ll be taking final exams this week, and then graduate. You have called East Lansing home, perhaps for four, or five, or six years. You have made many friends, gone to many football and basketball games, laughed, cried, and made East Lansing your earthly home. This building has become your spiritual home with its own unique memories. But some of you are moving on to other cities, other States, other countries even. You will try to establish a new earthly home where you can feel loved, appreciated, and secure.
I can tell you that the best way to really establish a new earthly home, is by finding another “outlet,” if you will, of your spiritual home. Because it’s not really this building that’s your home. This building, as important as it is to have a sacred space set aside for the worship of God, could not exist, and you could still be home, because your home is the Catholic Church. And wherever you move, find the nearest Catholic Church, and get acquainted with the community there. It won’t be exactly the same, but the Good Shepherd is, no matter where you go, what type of music is played at Mass, who you know, or how big or small it is. The Good Shepherd will be waiting for you, to welcome you home to the place where He is pleased to dwell.
The wolves of temptation will be circling, trying to convince you that you should worry about making tons of money first, or getting acquainted with other places, or just easing the stress of a new place by plopping down in front of the TV instead of going to Mass. And Jesus the Good Shepherd, will do all that He can through your conscience to remind you that your home is with Him, not with the TV, or the money, or the stores. He gives you safety and love, not the created goods. The Good Shepherd has gone so far as to lay down His life for you to show you how much He wants you and loves you. But He who did not ask you to create you, will not force His love on you without your permission. If you, the sheep, wish to leave home and wander among the brambles, then He loves you enough to let you wander away. But know this, He will be right behind you, ready to lead you back home to safety if you call on Him.
All of us: graduating students, students who will return next year, professors, and all present here, we all know about the wolves. We even know about the hired hands who will try to convince you that they’re pulling you away from the Church and from your faith for your own good because they love you. But only Jesus never abandons you when danger comes, or when you’re all alone with no safety, no comfort, no peace. Only the Good Shepherd stays with His sheep no matter what. The hired hands run away. The wolves will only stay as long as they can feed on you.
In a few months new freshmen will move in the dorms. Soon-to-be sophomores and juniors and seniors will crowd the streets. Students and alumni of all ages will gather at Spartan Stadium. And at that first game, whether we win or lose (hopefully we win!), the band will play “MSU Shadows,” reminding all that they’re home. But whether you’re in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, in Michigan or Montana, in the United States or Uzbekistan, stay with the Church, stay with the Good Shepherd, and no matter what hymns are sung, no matter what the building looks like, no matter who the priest is, you will be home.